Never Split the Difference

Attended a webinar given by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, delivered in partnership with Mind Gym. Based on experience, psychology and evidence of what works, Chris argues that it is a mistake to try and get people to say ‘yes’ in a negotiation, that people fear saying ‘yes’ or become defensive in fear that they will be trapped into committing to something they don’t really want – a bigger ‘yes’ somewhere down the line.

Instead, the goal should be to get people to say ‘that’s right’, having correctly summarised how they feel about the situation or facts in question. In so doing you are forming an emotional bond which demonstrates empathy and incites a small epiphany in the person you are negotiating with. This is different from a ‘you’re right’ response which is often counterfeit like ‘yes’, or which indicates that the person just wants to end the conversation or get out of the negotiation without really agreeing.

In the question and answer session that followed Chris said that the most important skill in getting a ‘that’s right’ response is summarising, combining the skills of identifying and labelling what the other person is saying, and paraphrasing the key points and facts.

When asked about what to do when someone gives a ‘no’ answer Chris said that this wasn’t necessarily bad, that it just means that you have mis-labelled something and that the person will typically follow a ‘no’ by correcting you or giving you more information.

Finally Chris gave some general negotiating advice from his experience. Always let the other person start the discussion if you can, don’t be afraid to use silence as it entices the other person into giving more information and, as most people feel out of control when not talking, tactical use of such pauses can give you an advantage, and finally if negotiating via email try to keep each email to a single point and end emails with something positive as that is what will stay with people.

A recording of the webinar and the slides are available on Mind Gym’s website here.

Reinventing Performance Management


A half hour webinar delivered by Octavius Black, CEO of Mind Gym. After first discussing the problems inherent in traditional performance appraisal schemes – e.g. too infrequent, too focused on weaknesses, perceived value of schemes too tied to personal relationships between appraisee and manager – Octavius moved on to the substance of the webinar, how to make such schemes more successful and achieve the right amount of positive stress for optimal performance. The six points they have identified, all based on psychological research and backed with evidence and case studies, are:

  1. Purpose: People need to have a sense that their work matters.
  2. Challenge: Work has to be sufficiently demanding. Where specific hard goals are set people perform better than when they are just asked to ‘do their best’.
  3. Attention: Demonstrating attention to detail in people’s work shows them that you have paid attention to it and gives them specific, concrete areas to build on.
  4. Growth: When people’s work is based on their strengths and what they do best they perform better and show continuous improvement – a positive feedback loop.
  5. Recognition: People need to feel that their work is recognised and rewarded, but as measured against their colleagues and not some arbitrary absolute.
  6. Choice: Giving people autonomy and ownership of their work and development.

Mind Gym’s paper which goes into detail on all of these points is available for free on their website here by registering with them, or you can watch a recording of the webinar or download the slides here.

Six Psychological Tricks That Make Learning Stick

A webinar provided by Sebastian Bailey, co-founder of Mind Gym. The webinar began with the assertion that in traditional learning new practice only ‘sticks’ for around 15-20% of people, with the majority trying the new practice, or parts of it, for a little while before falling back into old habits and ways of thinking and working. The six tricks are all designed around the concept of reducing cognitive load, making it easier for what you are trying to teach to sink in.

1. Build belief in the early stages of change

Five stages of change were identified: Persisting > Contemplating > Preparing > Acting > Maintaining. Studies were then presented that showed that when people were given time to contemplate why the change was required or desirable the success rate was significantly increased.

2. Create emotional arousal

Demonstrated how learning retention and performance improves when someone is under positive stress, e.g. by making people do an exercise which is outside of their comfort zone. Care has to be taken to get the balance right, as too much stress leads to anxiety and reduced performance. To be successful with this approach you need to both sell the need and the positive consequences while providing people with concrete steps they can take immediate action on.

3. Use stories over facts

Demonstrated that retention is significantly improved if you use an emotional story rather than facts and figures. Cited a case study on how to get people to donate to charity, with one group being given facts and figures about poverty, the second group the story of an individual who was affected by poverty. The second group were shown to retain more information and donated more money.

4. Use written, shared, implementation intentions

Encourage learners to reflect on their goals and add implementation intentions such as ‘I am going to update my CV on such-and-such a date’, preferably phrased as ‘if-then’ statements which reinforces that there is a fall-back position. Finally, encourage learners to share their intentions, while noting that the act of sharing is not itself a significant step to completing the goal or task.

5. Set specific ‘missions’ built into the workflow

Demonstrated that people can only spot a limited number of changes in a given scenario, and to help them improve on this give specific cues and prompts, set specific missions or tasks in the workflow, and encourage mindfulness.

6. Prime the right mindset by providing tools

Showed that people’s behaviour adapts to match that of those around them and that you can take advantage of this by priming people into believing that they are better learners. In an example IQ test three groups were given the same test, with the second and third groups being primed to ‘think like professors’ and professors’s assistants respectively. Both groups scored higher than the control, with those who were told to think like professors scoring 15% higher.